Sunday Spot Start: The Case For Kris Johnson


Aug 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kris Johnson (60) pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eleventh inning at PNC Park. The Arizona Diamondbacks won 4-2 in sixteen innings. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have a hole in the rotation coming up on Sunday, a spot previously filled by Jeff Locke has been vacated for what will be the final game of a three game series with St. Louis that will have a titanic impact on the Pirates chances of winning the division. The Pirates have a laundry list of options, but some are certainly more viable than others.

Brandon Cumpton, who has performed well in spot starts this season (including one against the Cardinals at the end of July) is unavailable because he pitched on the twenty-eighth.

Jeanmar Gomez is a decent option, having performed well in several starts he’s made in place of injured members of the rotation, and in the long relief outings which were effectively starts, mopping up after the mess that was the Jonathan Sanchez experiment. The main hit on Gomez is he hasn’t been stretched out for any more than three innings in an outing since June, so that makes him a less than ideal candidate.

Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? suggested in a post earlier that the Pirates should give the spot start to Jameson Taillon. Taillon isn’t the best candidate either, for a few reasons. Firstly, he has no big league experience, and throwing him into a pennant race against the best hitting team in the N.L. is probably not the best way to bring a high-end prospect into the major leagues.

Secondly, rushing pitchers (or any player) through the minor leagues is almost always a bad idea. Taillon is twenty-one years old, and has only spent two years in the Pirates minor league system. Hardly enough time to develop from a guy who throws well, to a guy who pitches well. He’s had success against big league hitters, but that was in one start in the World Baseball Classic, not the corpus of his work in the minor leagues. Taillon is not ready for Sunday, so he’s out.

Kris Johnson is the final option on the list (excluding the possibility of starting Charlie Morton on short rest), and the best, most plausible candidate to take Sunday’s start. He’s pitched extremely well in AAA Indianapolis, and in his one opportunity with the Pirates, he was excellent, going six innings in long relief, giving up only two runs, on five hits, and striking out five. Will he go out and dominate St. Louis? Not probable, but this is a spot start, an opportunity for Johnson to show the Pirates that he’s ready to be part of a big league club, both for the 2013 postseason, and going into next year as well.

Johnson would have every motivation in the world to perform in this start, and he clearly has the quality stuff and makeup to be a major league pitcher, and soon. He’s the man Clint Hurdle should give the ball to on Sunday.